Rohingyas in the construction industry


Some sleep on the table in the background

Rohingyas. Name and location withheld. 2016.

While we protest the persecution of the Rohingya people, I wanted to turn my attention to those who are already here. What are their lives like?

The life of a Rohingya in Malaysia is still very difficult. They continue to suffer and bringing their family over is not an option. Without a work permit, which is almost impossible to get and expensive. the Rohingyas end up in a situation of low pay and hardly any benefits. Falling sick or getting injured is not an option.

The Rohingyas who work in the construction industry spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing their jobs. However, they wanted their story told; that the suffering does not end when they arrive in Malaysia.

The area where the workers live reminds me of the slums of India; stuff you see on TV but not at a site owned by a construction company listed on the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange. The ground is muddy and wet with pools of stagnant water everywhere. In the middle of this muck are stalls selling food. The workers live in shacks located on both sides of the path that winds its way around the site. Workers bathe in the open; the men at least. I did see a few women living at the site. I was told that women were raped at some sites where the living conditions are even worse.

The air inside the living quarters was stale and humid to the point of being oppressive. There were no windows. In a room no bigger than 16 sq. metres, 16 souls live. There are no mattresses and most sleep on the hard floor. The rest sleep on sturdy tables located on both sides of the room. Bunk beds, construction site style.

“I quit the HR department because I could not live with myself anymore.” Quote from a manager who used to work for a listed construction company in Kuala Lumpur

While the Rohingyas at the site I visited are free to leave, there are work places where the workers are barred from leaving.

Despite these difficulties, one worker did say that at least he is earning money for his family who are still in Myanmar. He earns RM1,100 per month After various ‘taxes’, he is left with RM800 of which RM600 is wired home to his family.

Malaysia has millions of undocumented workers. Being afraid of detention centres, deportation or jail, these migrants and refugees suffer silently if not for the various NGOs who fight for their rights.

Standing up for the rights of the Rohingya means more than just holding mass rallies. Thumping our chests helps nobody. If we are serious about helping them, start with work permits.

Note: More information can be found at the Migrant88 website or you can reach them at email, an action based NGO aimed at promoting and protecting the dignity and well-being of Bangladeshi migrants (abroad) and their familes at home. Volunteers are always welcome.


The floor is my bed.


One of the lucky ones who escaped from Myanmar.

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